It’s been a long time since I saw such a one sided PMQs and it was a barnstorming performance from William Hague. It was a decent debate, had good jokes and the deputy Conservative leader emerged as a clear winner. Standing in for Gordon Brown who was in the US this week was the Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman the would be leadership rival, after her performance yesterday I am not so sure. She made a sloppy start and forgot to mention the terrorist attack in Lahore, not good. Up stepped Hague who was sleek, well-briefed and used his first question to remind her of her mistake, which forced Harman to offer belated condolences.
Hague’s main line of attack was about lending agreements. The government had promised to ‘help businesses now’ so why hadn’t a single loan been guaranteed months after the government announced the scheme? Harman looked unprepared for this line and managed to bleat out, ‘Provisions under that scheme are being finalised.’ Que huge jeers from the Tories, it was a poor defensive sidestep. Hague, sensing blood, responded that the loan scheme ‘was supposed to be operational by 1st March but the government only applied for clearance from Brussels last week.’
Repeating her previous error, Harman made another queasy, pedestrian reply, it was just plain lazy. She tried to get back on the offensive by complaining that Hague was focusing on just one policy whilst the government had many important measures to help people during the recession. Hague hit back, highlighted four schemes, including mortgage relief for the unemployed, that had been postponed which caused great discomfort on the Labour benches.
The more serious issues over it was time for a bit of mischief. Hague moved onto Brown’s absence and urged Harman to seize the moment. ‘When Chamberlain lost the confidence of his party, Churchill replaced him. When Eden crossed the Atlantic, Supermac took over. This could be her moment.’ Harman needed an instant, witty and pertinent reply to brush this away. However none was forthcoming, she said, ‘He’s raised a very important question of mortgage support.’ Our survey said XXX.
She then tried to regain the moral high ground but Hague was waiting for her. ‘He concentrates on political gossip,’ she scolded, ‘while we’re fighting for Britain’s future.’ Hague: ‘She shouldn’t describe her leadership campaign as political gossip.’ Rolling laughter reverberated off the walls of the chamber. Then Hague over-milked the joke a bit. ‘That’s not the way to win these things…’ Labour backbenchers were quick to remind him that ultimately he’d lost the leadership, ‘Yes,’ he said calmly. ‘I know. I’m only a deputy now but at least I’m a loyal one.’ That well and truly finished Harman off. Take note Harman you could learn a thing or two, from your counterpart, must try harder.